Times Staff Writer

At last, there’s a movie about teen-agers that’s fun even if you’re way past 21. It’s called “The Sure Thing” (citywide), and it really is that. It’s the perfect follow-up film for Rob Reiner, who made his directorial debut with the funniest film of 1984, “This Is Spinal Tap.”

John Cusack plays a very bright, freewheeling 18-year-old off to an Ivy League college. “I never saw so much corduroy in one place,” he reports to a pal (Anthony Edwards) who opted for UCLA. Cusack immediately clashes with the elegant and oh-so-organized Daphne Zuniga, his every move toward her a disaster.

Once writers Steven L. Bloom and Jonathan Roberts have set up (with maximum laughs) Cusack’s attraction for Zuniga and her corresponding antagonism toward him, they trap them in the same car heading to Los Angeles for Christmas.

Edwards has promised to set up Cusack over the vacation with a “sure thing,” a gorgeous, spacey California golden girl (Nicollette Sheridan). And Zuniga is eager for a reunion with her tweedy, also organized fiance (Boyd Gaines), with whom she plans to set up a law practice in rural Vermont where they can live a homespun existence. You guessed it: Cusack and Zuniga’s squabbling gets them thrown out of the car by the dippy student couple (Tim Robbins, Lisa Jane Persky) with whom they had arranged their rides.

Of course, “It Happens One Night” comes to mind, but “The Sure Thing” is so sparkling and original in its humor, so perceptive about human nature in its own right, that its key elements seem classic, not carbons. (Actually, it was inspired by an incident involving Bloom when he was a sophomore at Brown University.)


Just about everything that could happen to Cusack and Zuniga between the middle of nowhere and the West Coast does. In the process Zuniga does loosen up, and Cusack shapes up in crisis. It’s hardly giving anything away to report that they fall in love, but the question is will they admit it to themselves, let alone each other?

In the meantime, what fun. Robbins, whose character’s name is Gary Cooper (“Not the dead one--I’m alive!” he chirps), and Persky actually sing show tunes while on the road, ranging from “The Age of Aquarius” to “Button Up Your Overcoat.” Cusack has a glorious drunk with some cow-town reprobates (George Memmoli, Sunshine Parker), and Zuniga fends off the usual sleazy guy (Garry Goodrow, hilarious as always) who’s given her a ride.

Cusack and Zuniga (she has a nothing part in the current “Vision Quest”) are real finds, as talented as they are intelligent. Indeed, that’s what sets this film apart from countless other youth pix: It’s not afraid to make a passing reference to Nietzsche. Lots of films have sweetness and humor (some of it here raunchy enough to warrant an apt PG-13), but “The Sure Thing” also has smarts.

‘THE SURE THING’ An Embassy Film release of a Monument Pictures production. Executive producer Henry Winkler. Producer Roger Birnbaum. Co-producer Andrew Scheinman. Director Rob Reiner. Screenplay Steven L. Bloom, Jonathan Roberts. Camera Robert Elswit. Music Tom Scott. Production designer Lilly Kilvert. Costumes Durinda Wood. Supervising film editor Robert Leighton. With John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards, Boyd Gaines, Viveca Lindfors, Lisa Jane Persky, Tim Robbins, Nicollette Sheridan, Garry Goodrow, George Memmoli, Sunshine Parker, Fran Ryan.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (some parental guidance advised for children under 13).